Saturday, June 22, 2019

Enjoying the Hound's pup-ularity on stage again

Last night, Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery opened in Peoria, at our Corn Stock Theater, where plays have been performed in a tent in the park for sixty-six years as of this writing. A co-worker had asked me if it was a popular play, and I had to say "Yes, but not in the way you normally think."

Baskerville first played about a month before Hamilton's first performance in 2015. Hamilton went to Broadway, showed up quickly at the Tony Awards, and now plays in big cities like Chicago for nearly $200 a ticket. Baskerville opened in Washington, DC. soon went to San Diego, California and is now playing nearly everywhere for prices like the seventeen dollars a ticket that I paid last night.

So, popular? Maybe not in the big-ticket, Broadway sense, but on the community theater circuit, hitting every town with five talented actors and a bit of a budget? Yes, very popular. I suspect Ken Ludwig is doing all right.

Last night was my second time at Baskerville, as I had first seen it in St. Louis in October of 2017.  It's interesting to note that at it's Washington premiere, in St. Louis, and here in Peoria, all three performances had women directing, which makes a statement about who quietly does so much of the work in this country while another gender dominates award shows and puts their names in front of plays. Susan Hazzard, who directed in Peoria, let her actors off the chain a little more at Corn Stock Theater than we had seen in St. Louis. I noted then how that production kept it more Holmes than farce, where Peoria's performance went more broadly into comic bits, even adding some in points where St. Louis didn't go for it.

Baskerville is an interesting play in that even though Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are the main characters, the other three actors in the play wind up being the real stars as they roll through dozens of other characters to fill out a really true-to-the-original-novel adaptation. That's not to say Sherlock Holmes, played here by Nathan Apodaca, and John Watson, played here by Jerrod Barth, are not roles worth taking. I was very impressed by both American actors' ability to do something that conveyed a British accent without totally going into something that would sound cheesy or laughable it itself.

That was for the other actors, Zachary Robertson, Jacob V. Uhlman, and Anna Oxborrow, who each got to romp through accent after accent and voice after voice with a happy enthusiasm. Of particular note to Peoria, where our currently-on-hiatus Sherlockian society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, was Anna Oxborrow's part as a gender-swapped cabbie John Clayton (who I'm now calling "Joan Clayton" in tribute to Elementary, even though the character isn't named in the play, I think). Joan Clayton had an eye patch among the other bits in this version of the character, a first that I recall, having followed Clayton's appearances in illustrations and adaptations for decades.

It was a great opening night performance in the Corn Stock tent, and also great to note that The Hound of the Baskervilles is still finding a popular place in our culture after over a century, hitting local theater companies like Peoria's with something new and fun we don't have to go to Chicago and shell out a day's pay just to see. It was also great to get out to the tent for a summer crowd-pleaser, as the good Carter and I usually hit Corn Stock's smaller winter theater with its often more unusual choices. I might have to get out to see this one again.

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